Today in Racism: Bike Helmets?

One of the mysteries of the COVID era is that there has been no attack on vaccine mandates for their racial “disparate impact,” since vaccination rates are so much lower among blacks especially. When New York City imposed vaccine mandates for access to restaurants and other public accommodations, I expected some eager civil rights lawyer to file suit because of its racially discriminatory effects. After all, as reported here last month, traffic cameras are racist.

Well, Seattle is close. It has decided to repeal its bicycle helmet laws because . . . well, let Public Health Insider explain it:

Bike helmets save lives and help prevent serious injuries. A review of several published studies estimates that bike helmets provide a 63-88% reduction in the risk of head and brain injuries for people who ride bikes. As part of the movement to encourage the use of bike helmets, the King County Board of Health passed a law in 1993 requiring anyone riding a bike to wear a helmet.

However, data presented to the Board of Health has shown racist and discriminatory enforcement. Seattle Police Department data collected and analyzed by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and the Helmet Law Working Group shows that police disproportionately gave helmet law citations to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color cyclists.

Their analysis found that Black riders were nearly four times as likely to be cited by police for not wearing a helmet while biking compared to White riders. Further, in Seattle, nearly half of the citations issued for biking without a helmet were given to people living homeless.

In light of this data, and in alignment with the Board of Health’s declaration of Racism as a Public Health crisis, on February 17, 2022, the Board of Health repealed the King County bike helmet law while affirming the importance of helmets in preventing serious injury and death. . . To help support more equitable access to helmets, the King County Council allocated $221,000 in the supplemental budget passed in November 2021 to support Public Health’s work distributing free helmets to those who may have trouble accessing them and promoting bike safety.

Of course, there is no data offered as to helmet compliance rates by race. Maybe no such data exist. Best guess is that the top-line “BIPOC more than four times likely to be cited” is simply the number of tickets measured against the general demographic profile of King County. It seems implausible that Seattle law enforcement is deliberately and selectively targeting minorities for helmet law violations. I wonder what the data would look like if it could be broken out by income level. Common sense suggests that many people don’t have helmets because they are poor. But that’s inconvenient to the race-mongers. And good to know that racism is a greater public health problem than head injuries from bicycle accidents.

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